The Trump Administration apparently will include one less person dragging the baggage of legal entanglements and concerning views on religious freedom: Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. over the weekend announced he won’t join President Donald J. Trump’s Department of Homeland Security after all.
“Late Friday, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. formally notified Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly that he had rescinded his acceptance of the agency’s offer to join DHS as an assistant secretary,” Craig Peterson, an adviser to Clarke, told The Washington Post. “Sheriff Clarke is 100 percent committed to the success of President Trump and believes his skills could be better utilized to promote the president’s agenda in a more aggressive role.”
Americans United voiced concerns about Clarke having a role in federal government due to his troubling stances on religious freedom.
It took a federal appeals court ruling in 2008 to stop Clarke from forcing his deputies to attend mandatory meetings at which the Fellowship of Christian Centurions (FCC), a group formed by an evangelical Wisconsin church, would proselytize to them. The Milwaukee Deputy Sheriffs’ Association filed a lawsuit on behalf of deputies who objected to the proselytization; AU filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that Clarke’s actions were an unconstitutional act of religious coercion and government showing favoritism for one faith over others.
Clarke also has espoused the view that religious beliefs can be used to justify discrimination. During a 2015 Fourth of July appearance on TheBlaze, a radio network launched by conservative radio personality Glenn Beck, Clarke assailed the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized marriage for same-sex couples. He went so far as to urge listeners to revolt violently.
“The next time in your state the federal government comes in and tries to put a church or a bakery or a pizza place out of business because they want to live by their religious conviction – when I talk about pitchforks and torches, you need to get down there, surround that business and dare the federal government to come in and close it,” he said. “That’s the revolution I’m talking about. It has to start in the states.”
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, seen here speaking at the 2016 Republican National Convention, has troubling views on religious freedom.
Clarke and Trump appear to share views that immigration enforcement should target people based on their religious beliefs. Among Clarke’s suggestions was increasing patrols of Muslim neighborhoods to search for “hotspots” and “radicalization”; he suggested these patrols may have prevented the 2015 San Bernardino terror attack. Clarke’s position at DHS reportedly would have allowed him to act as a liaison between DHS and local police departments – “likely pressuring them to enforce the Trump administration’s tough new crackdown on illegal immigration,” The Washington Post had reported.
There was some speculation that Clarke’s decision to remain in Wisconsin and not join DHS wasn’t his choice: “It feels like even President Trump doesn’t want Sheriff Clarke,” Marina Dimitrijevic, a Democratic Milwaukee County supervisor, told a Milwaukee-based Fox television station. “We don’t want him in our community either.”
Since Clarke announced in early May on a radio show that he was joining DHS, he’s been caught up in two new scandals. CNN broke the story that Clarke had plagiarized his 2013 master’s degree thesis on homeland security by not properly attributing sources at least 47 times. And earlier this month, a federal jury awarded $6.7 million to a former female prisoner who said she was raped by one of Clarke’s employees in 2013 at the Milwaukee County Jail he oversees.
The woman, who was pregnant at the time of the alleged assaults, also claimed she was kept shackled when she went into labor. Clarke’s jail faces a separate lawsuit from another pregnant woman who said she, too, was kept shackled during labor; her baby died.
The baby was one of four deaths at Clarke’s jail last year; another was that of a man with mental health problems who died of dehydration after he was deprived of water in his cell for a week.
While it’s a relief Clarke’s twisted view of religious freedom won’t be informing federal policy, there are plenty of others in Trump’s administration who would like to chip away at the wall of separation between church and state. That’s why we need you now more than ever to help us protect religious freedom. Learn how you can get involved here.